Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jamie Oliver Opinion

Opinion on Jamie Oliver in the UK is as divided as opinion on Jennifer Aniston in Who Magazine. According to a piece in the London Times:

If Britain has a problem with Jamie Oliver, it is because we can’t decide what he is: campaigning saint transforming troubled kids into chefs with his Fifteen restaurant or steely businessman, churning out Jamie brand pasta sauces or merchandise for his Jamie At Home direct-sales outfit, Tupperware parties for the Cath Kidston generation? How could he campaign against battery chickens, and accept £1.2 million a year to endorse Sainsbury’s supermarket, when they were selling them? Jamie Oliver the aw-right-mate, dress-down geezer can seem at odds with the owner of Jamie Oliver Holdings, 2008 pre-tax profits £6.8 million, employer these days of around 4,000 people, who made the Sunday Times rich list well before he was 30.

This is a valid point - you either love Jamie, or hate him. You look at him as a genuine, hard-working family man whose commitment to youth education, empowerment and health is something special, or you see a cashed up celeb pocketing more pennies by interfering in people’s lives, telling them that knowing the difference between a tomato and a potato is indeed something worth knowing while the cameras are rolling. To my mind, why shouldn’t someone whose focus, enthusiasm and passion revolutionised the way British school children eat, got kids off drugs and into kitchens and uses his fame to raise awareness about the food industry reap the financial rewards?

In the same article, Jamie talks about his campaign to tackle obesity in America. Journalist Janice Turner writes:

I interviewed Oliver five years ago, just after his British school dinner project, and found him unexpectedly thin-skinned, even at a mildly put suggestion that he might – with relentless waves of books, TV shows and product ranges – be in danger of overexposure. But meeting him again, I sense an epidermal thickening, an inurement to criticism born of battles fought, confidence that his cause is righteous, his allies – including the new White House, Oprah Winfrey and politicians of all hues in Britain – are mighty, that no one can take away his victories, his hard-earned stripes.

“Look,” he says when I mention his critics. “I’m Jamie Oliver, I’m 34, I’m an Essex boy and I love food. If I have an opportunity to tell the story, in the biggest slot, in the biggest country in the world with the biggest problem, at the age of 60 should I be saying, I tried and failed. Or even I succeeded! Or do I say I was too busy f***ing around in England?”

After 11 years trying to break America, “on the a***-end of the Food Network”, Oliver says he’d been about to scale down his US ventures when ABC offered the show. “Why me? Because I’m the only f***** who’s stupid enough to do it. I’ve done it and smelt it and felt it before. The time’s right. I’ve been trying to get someone to tell this story here, ever since I found out America was the worst of pretty much everything I was learning about, doing research [for School Dinners] in England.”

Nonetheless, Huntington was a tough gig. America, he says, is five years ahead of Britain in its food degeneracy and obesity levels. At least the kids in Greenwich, South London, where he launched School Dinners, could identify a tomato, and when Jamie showed them what chicken nuggets were made of, by grinding beaks and carcasses, were suitably repelled: American kids watched this and still elected to eat them over roasted meat. And what with the boot-faced dinner ladies serving pizza for breakfast, milk adulterated with sugar, teachers believing it dangerous for kids to have cutlery – so children literally did not know how to eat anything but hand-held fast food – local shock-jocks asking him how he got to be crowned king, it ended with Jamie sobbing on camera. I ask what finally broke him and ignite one of his looping, sweary, heartfelt spiels.

“My role here is a very strange one because I am a foreigner. The town didn’t like me. Every aspect of media was f***ing slagging me off on a daily basis. I didn’t have friends or family and it was f***ing hard. But if you don’t just talk the talk and really do and get your hands dirty and stay and live with different people and understand they’re not just obese because they’re f***ing stupid, it is… f***ing hard.”

Such was the negative press, he says, that White House aides and senators who had agreed to meet him – as a prequel to presenting his research to Michelle Obama, who is also campaigning on obesity – pulled out in alarm. “I was all suited and booted,” he says. “I’d flown over to Washington and it was cancelled.”

So why do this at all? Why not consolidate work in British school kitchens or roll out more of the Ministry of Food centres which began in Rotherham and have expanded to three other Northern towns, teaching families to cook? Why open such a huge, unwinnable new front when it would take you so long and often from home, especially when your wife Jools is pregnant with your fourth child?

“I don’t think I have any choice,” he says. “I’m not saying I’m on a calling. Although the local pastor in Huntington said, ‘You have been sent from God, we’ve been praying for you and now you’re here.’ But it’s my job to sow a seed of change.”

Following the story are pages and pages of comments.

Amid much bickering between Brits and Americans about which nation has the greater girth, there are many along these lines:

Rather than pick on America I would like to see a photograph and the statistics of the entire Jamie Oliver family tree, nephews, cousins, uncles
and aunts.... I bet they are not all skinny!


I think that Jamie Oliver should take a good look at himself first before spouting off about obesity.

Since when did Jamie Oliver become a poster boy for body image? Is he really telling people they should be ‘skinny’? Is he only allowed to campaign against obesity and promote healthy cooking and eating if he (and apparently his entire family tree) looks like James Bond? I don’t think so.

Eating junk vs eating real food shouldn’t - doesn’t - translate to fat vs thin. It’s about feeling awful or feeling well. It’s about eating chemicals, preservatives and trans fats because it’s easy, because you’re tired or bored or lonely, or eating because you care about yourself, your health and the planet. No one ever said you can never have your (homemade) cake with double cream on the side again. No one ever said you should have the same measurements as the Victoria’s Secret angels or you don’t deserve to live. And if they did? Well, fuck ‘em.

Although we’re bombarded with messages about thinness and can barely open our eyes in the morning without news of a celebrity’s ‘Body After Baby’ pinging back to where it was before, Jamie Oliver is not the Anna Wintour of the food industry. He’s not asking people to ditch Happy Meals for green salad with no dressing, to bid adieu to sugar, diary, eggs, carbs, red meat and anything else that might, you know, BE TASTY, so we all fit some insane Hollywood ideal and can swap our trackies for skinny jeans.

He is asking you to consider what you put in your gob. And to enjoy every last lick of it.

What do you think of Jamie’s new American project and the reaction to it?

No comments:

Post a Comment